4 tips for hospitals looking to master population health management

In many parts of the country, federal policymakers will soon make it impossible for hospitals to survive and thrive without a focus on value, particularly in the form of population health management efforts, according to Ron Greeno, MD, executive vice president of strategy and innovation at Cogent Healthcare, which provides hospitalist and inpatient care management services to hospitals.

"They're making a conscious effort to move away from fee-for-service using alternative methodologies that are more population based," he says.

Therefore, although it can seem daunting, it's crucial for hospitals to tackle the task of taking on risk and managing the health of patient population both in and outside of the hospital walls, he says. He and Lakshmi Halasyamani, MD, Cogent's CMO, offered the following four tips for successful population health efforts.

1. Use data effectively to drive continuous improvement. Hospitals should make sure they don't end up being "data rich but information poor," Dr. Halasyamani says. It's important to measure and use data in a way to help shed light on the organization's vulnerabilities and areas of opportunity for improvement.

After identifying key issues and challenges, hospitals should then invest in continuous improvement strategies. "We can't just keep throwing paint on the wall," Dr. Halasyamani says. "We're going to have to work through systematic processes." 

2. Adopt a broader perspective. Hospital culture needs to change to facilitate successful population health management, according to Dr. Halasyamani. That means taking steps, for instance, to ensure care transitions are seamless from the hospital to post-acute care settings. Overall, hospital leaders need to think beyond what happens when someone is in the hospital to the patient's care in all settings, and especially those that connect to an acute care episode.

"Typically, we've focused on the narrow piece of care that we're accountable for," she says. "We're going to have to think about the greater whole."    

3. Develop a strong hospitalist program. With hospitalized patients accounting for roughly a third of total healthcare expenditures, a strong hospitalist program is key to containing costs and improving patients' health, according to Dr. Greeno. Hospitalists can help make decisions about how best to care for patients and create a post-hospitalization plan.

"If you look at the small percentage of patients that cost the healthcare system by far the most money, they all end up in the hospital sooner or later," he says. "And so it's a perfect time to capture them, do a good job taking care of them and plan for their healthcare future." 

4. Choose the right partners. In order to effectively manage the health of a patient population, hospitals need to be part of a larger, integrated healthcare organization, according to Dr. Greeno: "If your post-acute system is completely disorganized, you're going to fail, even if the hospital is controlling hospital costs. The hardest part is finding adequate partners to help you do this right. Hospitals have to find physician partners that know how to do this. Doctors are going to have to find hospitals and skilled nursing facility partners. Your responsibility for being good goes far beyond your own organization."

Dr. Halasyamani says hospitals should look for partners with the same values and approach to delivery and outcomes. Additionally, they should be able to collaborate to share information and data to drive improvement, as well as agree on common tools and a common vernacular to ensure performance measurement is consistent across teams. Furthermore, hospital leaders should find other organizations that complement their areas of expertise. For instance, acute-care providers may want to align with post-acute entities.

"Each of us within the healthcare space has tried to become very good at something in a very narrow way," she says. "We have to recognize that we're not going to be good at everything." 

Drs. Halasyamani and Greeno — along with Louis G. Smith, Jr., CEO of Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital in Humble, Texas, and Michael O. Leavitt, founder and chairman of Leavitt Partners, former HHS secretary and former governor of Utah — will provide more insight into population health management during a Sept. 24 webinar titled "The Importance of Hospital Medicine in Population Health Management." Register here to learn more about how hospitals need to prepare for a healthcare industry focused on population health. 

More articles on population health:
The NFL is a blow to population health. So why do so many health systems support the league?  
National Quality Forum seeks groups to test population management action guide  
6 steps to health system success in the new reimbursement landscape 


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